Age is the greatest risk factor but genetics also play a role. About 2% of people with Alzheimer’s have early onset Alzheimer’s, which often appears in someone in their 40s or 50s.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that worsens over a number of years. In early stages, sufferers experience mild memory loss such as difficulty coming up with the right word or losing or misplacing a valuable object. Late-stage Alzheimer’s sufferers may experience loss of ability to carry on conversation and carry on daily tasks including eating and going to the toilet. Some may even lose the ability to smile and hold their heads up. Ultimately, Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States.
Most people experience some level of forgetfulness. Understanding the difference between normal and an early symptom of Alzheimer’s is an important step. Alzheimer’s disease begins slowly and in its early stages, appears as short-term memory loss. Not everyone will experience the same symptoms or progress at the same rate.
|NORMAL||EARLY ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE|
|Can't find your keys||Routinely place important items in odd places, such as keys in the fridge, wallet in the dishwasher|
|Search for casual names and words||Forget names of family members and common objects, or substitute words with inappropriate ones|
|Briefly forget conversation details||Frequently forget entire conversations|
|Can't find a recipe||Can't follow recipe directions|
|Feel the cold more||Dress regardless of weather, wear several skirts on a warm day or shorts in a snow storm|
|Make occasional wrong turn||Get lost in familiar places, don't remember how you got there or how to get home|
|Feel occasionally sad||Experience rapid mood swings, from tears to rage, for no discernible reason|
Alzheimer’s disease begins slowly and in its early stages, appears as short-term memory loss. Not everyone will experience the same symptoms or progress at the same rate.
The seven stage Global Deterioration Scale, also known as the Reisberg Scale, includes the following dimensions:
|1 – NO IMPAIRMENT||Memory and cognitive abilities appear normal.|
|2 – MINIMAL IMPAIRMENT/NORMAL FORGETFULNESS||Memory lapses and changes in thinking are rarely detected by friends, family, or medical personnel. May be normal age-related changes or earliest signs of Alzheimer’s.|
|3 – MILD COGNITIVE IMPAIRMENT||While subtle difficulties begin to impact function, the person may consciously or subconsciously try to cover up his or her problems. Difficulty with retrieving words, planning, organization, misplacing objects, and forgetting recent learning, which can affect life at home and work. Family, friends and co-workers begin to notice difficulties. Early stage Alzheimer’s can be diagnosed in some but not all individuals with these symptoms.|
|4 – MODERATE COGNITIVE IMPAIRMENT/MILD ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE||Problems handling finances result from mathematical challenges. Recent events and conversations are increasingly forgotten, although most people in this stage still know themselves and their family. Problems carrying out sequential tasks, including cooking, driving, ordering food at restaurants, and shopping. Often withdraw from social situations, become defensive, and deny problems. Accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is possible at this stage.|
|5 – EARLY DEMENTIA/MODERATE ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE||Decline is more severe and requires outside assistance with day-to-day activities. No longer able to manage independently or recall personal history details and contact information. Frequently disoriented regarding place and or time. People in this stage experience a severe decline in numerical abilities and judgment skills, which can leave them vulnerable to scams and at risk from safety issues. Basic daily living tasks like eating and dressing require increased supervision. Still remember significant details about self and family and do not require assistance with eating or using a toilet.|
|6 – MIDDLE DEMENTIA/MODERATELY SEVERE ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE||Memory continues to get worse and personality changes may take place. Total lack of awareness of present events and inability to accurately remember the past. People in this stage progressively lose the ability to take care of daily living activities like dressing, toileting, and eating but are still able to respond to nonverbal stimuli, and communicate pleasure and pain via behavior. Agitation and hallucinations often show up in the late afternoon or evening. Dramatic personality changes such as wandering or suspicion of family members are common. Many can’t remember close family members, but know they are familiar.|
|7 – LATE OR SEVERE DEMENTIA/SEVERE ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE||In this final stage, speech becomes severely limited, as well as the ability to walk or sit. My still say words or phrases, but lose ability to respond to environment, carry on conversation and control movement. Total support around the clock is needed for all functions of daily living and care.|
You’ve probably heard some frightening statistics about Alzheimer’s. Read and learn the latest thought-provoking facts about Alzheimer’s and the impact it has on the people who have it, their caregivers, and society as a whole.
Early diagnosis offers the best hope to treat and manage the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. While there is no single test that can show whether a person has Alzheimer’s, doctors today can accurately diagnose the presence of Alzheimer’s almost 90% of the time through a complete medical assessment using non-invasive methods. Diagnosis requires careful evaluation, including:
Medical history – such as questions about patient’s health, past medical problems, family history
Cognition tests – such as memory, problem solving, attention level, language, ability to perform daily tasks
Medical tests – such as blood and brain imaging
The first step is to find a doctor you are comfortable with. Many people contact their regular primary care physician or internist about their concerns. Primary care doctors often oversee the diagnostic process themselves or may refer you to a specialist. Specialists include neurologists, psychiatrists or psychologists.
Researchers have identified certain genes that increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or deterministic genes that directly cause Alzheimer’s.
|RISK GENES||APOE-e4 is the strongest risk gene for Alzheimer’s. This test is most often used in clinical trials to identify people with a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Carrying this gene does not indicate whether a person will develop Alzheimer’s or whether a person has Alzheimer’. Such testing is controversial and should only be undertaken after discussion with your physician.|
|DETERMINISTIC GENES||Tests are also available for genes that cause a rare form of Alzheimer’s, called Autosomal Dominant Alzheimer’s Disease (ADAD) or “familial Alzheimer’s”. Some people do not want to know their genetic status, while others want to learn whether they will eventually get the disease. ADAD tends to develop earlier in life and runs strongly in families.|
There is currently no cure or treatment that will stop or reverse the progress of Alzheimer’s disease. There are however currently four FDA-approved drugs that may be able to relieve symptoms for patients for a limited time such as memory loss. They may slow down the pace at which symptoms worsen for approx. half of people who take them. The effect lasts for a limited time, on average 6-12 months.
Doctors may prescribe Aricept®, Exelon®, Razadyne® or Galantamine® Moderate to severe symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease can be treated with Aricept®, Exelon® and Namenda®. For more information on these products and to access prescribing information, please visit the manufacturers’ websites.
There are other medications that can be prescribed to control behavorial symptoms such as sleeplessness, agitation, anxiety and depression associated with Alzheimer’s. While treating the symptoms may make situations more comfortable, they may also come with additional side effects. Please consult with your doctor.
Research has found that keeping the brain active seems to increase its vitality and may build its reserve of brain cells and connections, even generation of new brain cells. Higher levels of education, and brain activity, appear to have a somewhat protective effect against Alzheimer’s. You could still get Alzheimer’s, but symptoms may appear later.Do small things to keep active:
With an aging population and increasing number of people with Alzheimer’s, and no cure or treatment out there today, the need for Give To Cure has never been greater. It is critical that we help accelerate the pace of research and get treatments to patients that need it most today.